KEN Mode/ Vilipend/ Purity Control/ Black Faxes @ the Garrison, Toronto ON, March 25, 2011

By Natalie Zed

Caveat: I know, and like, many of the people in these bands; I consider them friends, allies and partners. They also deserve to be written about, so I’m going to write about them. Any bias you may accuse me of, I accept.

The night began with Black Faxes, who share vocalist Graham Christian with Teethmarks, a band I saw perform not a week prior. The proximity of these two shows made me realize how closely related these acts are, conceptually and sonically. Black Faxes have a twist of punk in their metal sound that is like a hint of rosewater in a glass of lemonade or, to be more accurate, a trace of blood in a jar of gasoline. They have a great bit of crassness about them, a cheery vulgarity that makes me grin. Graham also has the tendency to look blackout drunk, shambling violently on stage no matter how sober he is, which is somehow threatening and endearing at the same time. They opened well and made a strong bill even richer with their presence.

Purity Control are a difficult band: strange and raw, a wall of aggressive noise. The way they approached this show was absolutely brilliant though: they played a super-short set, 15 minutes at the most. This allowed the audience to listen to them in an intense, controlled burst, to absorb the most of what they have to offer without getting fatigued. They served as a shockingly refreshing palate cleanser, a performance choice I heartily commend and that suited their aesthetic perfectly.

Toronto, ON purveyors of Northern hostility Vilipend were up next. I felt safer than usual at most Vilipend shows. Roguishly handsome frontman Christopher J. Gramlich enjoys violently antagonizing the audience, but the stage at the Garrison is a little too high to allow him to physically frighten people as much as he prefers. Their music, however, was as unsettling as ever, a series of brilliantly executed, musically compelling shrieks of agony. A few technical issues plagued their set: bassist Mike Crossley’s bass rig cut-out during a substantial portion of one of their songs, as did a mic cord during another (which Gramlich used to strangle himself on stage until it was swiftly replaced). While these hiccups made their set less immersive than usual, they still struck me, as they always do, as a band with incredible power in their performance. Their first full-length record has been recorded and is currently being mixed. I have no doubt that they’re going to produce something amazing.

Winnipeg, MB-based KEN Mode headlined this show. They are currently touring to support Venerable, recently released by Profound Lore. This record represents what is unquestionably their finest work to date — it is urgent and frightening, displaying a type of aural sadism that delights in picking the listener apart. They brought this intensity to the stage, but, for reasons beyond the band’s control, the set didn’t do their music justice. I need to call out the soundman, Steve, for the way that KEN Mode were treated. The vocals for KEN Mode were absolutely terrible, buried under the instruments and rendered completely toneless. The mix was also bad in general, making the tight three-piece sound muddy. If this was anyone’s first experience witnessing the band, I can’t imagine they would have gotten much of an inkling of how passionate and precise they are live. That said, they gave what they had, making due under less than ideal circumstances. The band members maintain an incredible chemistry between each other that’s only stronger now that Thérèse Lanz (Mares of Thrace) has joined the band as their bassist. She and Jesse Matthewson play to each other with a kind of fierce intimacy that includes the entire audience. All three members (rounded out by drummer, and best Matthewson ever, Shane) have a fantastic give and take, playing off each other’s energy and throwing it at the audience. Some of that was dampened for this performance, but despite the smothering sound issues, at least some of that warmth shone through.

Sean is the founder/publisher of; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.